Rajat Sharma

My Opinion

CBSE must plug all loopholes in its examination system

akb 2Millions of Class X students across the country, except Delhi-NCR and Haryana, heaved a sigh of relief on Friday evening, when the Education Secretary announced that there would be no retest for Maths in all regions except Delhi-NCR and Haryana, where question paper leaks are supposed to have taken place. The date for Class XII Economics paper was also announced ending uncertainty and confusion in the minds of examinees and their parents.

There were three issues before the Education department of HRD Ministry: One, how to end uncertainties in the minds of examinees. This ended with the announcement of retest date for Class XII Economics, and a possible retest for Class X Maths, if required, in Delhi-NCR and Haryana.

Two, questions were raised as to why CBSE did not take action when it was getting leaked question papers on e-mail, fax and courier. The reply given was that in the past too, such claims of leaks were made but were later found to be fake. This time the board could not establish that the leaks did take place and hence, it did not pre-empt the cheaters by cancelling the exam.

Third point: How will the board ensure that such leaks do not recur in future? The reply given by the Education Secretary was that since the exams are due only next year, necessary measures to plug all loopholes in the system will be put in place.

The question now is: CBSE had an impeccable record of leak-proof examination system till date, there used to be more than one set of question papers to tackle such eventualities, question papers used to be kept in SBI branch lockers, question papers were printed at government security printing press, then how was the security breached? Till the time there are no specific answers to these questions, all other replies make no meaning.

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Centre must take action against CBSE officials in paper leak case

AA_akb 1 (002)It has now come to light during investigation that the Class X Maths question paper that was leaked to students and tutors, was forwarded by a parent to a senior CBSE official five days before the exam was to take place. The official routinely forwarded this to a junior police officer for investigation, and nothing happened during the intervening period because of weekend holidays. The shit hit the fan when the exam took place five days later and it was found that the question paper was already leaked. CBSE then cancelled the exam and ordered retest.

It is clear that the CBSE management has not taken the leak of question papers seriously, otherwise this could have been avoided. On its part, the Delhi Police special investigation team is still shooting in the dark. It is questioning those students and tutors who got the leaked question paper on their WhatsApp. Police is yet to ascertain who were the real masterminds behind this leak. CBSE officials, on their part, are obfuscating the entire issue by giving vague replies.

CBSE must reply why it did not take immediate steps when the leaked paper landed with their official five days before the exam. The board could have postponed the exam and could have ordered fresh question papers to be reset, but it did not.

This is a sheer case of negligence and amounts to injustice to millions of students who toiled hard for the board exam. While the police is trying to nab the real masterminds behind the leak, the Centre must immediately take action against those erring CBSE officials who were responsible for conducting the exam in a fair manner, but did not take the complaints seriously.

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Saddest day for CBSE students

Aaj-ki-Baat_frame_69163On Wednesday, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) announced that all examinees of Class X maths and Class XII economics will have to sit for re-tests on dates to be announced within a week. This followed reports of leaks of question papers on both these subjects. The matter has been handed over for investigation to the Crime Branch of Delhi Police, which has formed a special investigation team, to carry out raids and nab the culprits who were behind the paper leak.

My heart cries out for those 22 lakh students who burnt the midnight oil for months to study and prepare for the CBSE exams. These students toiled hard with sincerity to sit for the exams, but a handful of unscrupulous people have forced them to toil hard again and sit for the retests.

One should remember the tips that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had given to students to prepare for board exams, but even the PM did not foresee such a crisis that the students would have to face. Leak of question papers denotes failure of the system. It amounts to sheer injustice to lakhs of students. For filthy lucre, the handful of unscrupulous persons have put lakhs of students in a precarious situation.

Delhi Police should round up the gang that leaked the question papers. Such culprits should be arrested and brought to justice immediately. Police should also arrest those who sit within the system and encourage question paper leaks. Police should know that the Prime Minister himself is unhappy over this sordid incident and he is keeping a watchful eye on the progress of investigation.

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Christopher Wylie’s revelations could be embarrassing for Congress

Aaj-ki-Baat_frame_69163Christopher Wylie, a former employee of controversial firm Cambridge Anayltica, on Tuesday told the UK House of Commons digital, culture, media and sports committee, that his firm undertook work for the Congress party in India and has worked “extensively in India”.

Wylie admitted in his testimony that “I believe their client was Congress. I know that they have done all kinds of projects..I don’t remember a national project but I know regionally, they have. They do have offices there, they have staff there. I believe I have some documentation on India I can provide.”

Last week when news broke that Cambridge Analytica had misused Facebook user data to profile voters in the US presidential elections and the Brexit referendum in UK, the Congress had categorically maintained that it never hired Cambridge Anayltica. On Tuesday, the Congress dared Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to file an FIR against the firm and its Indian partners and also against Facebook on the basis of evidence obtained by the government. Prasad had earlier warned Facebook that the government could take stern action against user data mining for political purposes.

The witness in question, Christopher Wylie, has nothing to do with Congress or Indian politics, but his revelations could be embarrassing for India’s oldest political party. This has been worse confounded because of earlier assertions by the party that it had nothing to do with Cambridge Analytica.

The Congress spokesman, in turn, has alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi hired the services of CA during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Probably the spokesman Randeep Surjewala has not listened to Wylie’s testimony carefully. Wylie has told the House of Commons committee that his firm had worked in several states of India, but never handled any general elections on a national scale. Instead of knee-jerk reactions, the Congress would be well advised to frame its reply carefully, because it can cause political damage to the party in the long run.

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Let there be no politicking over massacre of 39 Indians by ISIS in Iraq

Aaj-K-Baat_frame_10866Four years after 39 Indian construction workers were kidnapped by ISIS terrorists in Mosul, Iraq, the government finally announced in Parliament on Wednesday that the deaths of all these hostages have been confirmed through DNA tests. The remains of these workers were dug out after use of deep penetration radar in a desert.

The whole word knows what has happened in Iraq in the last five years, how ISIS went to the extremes of brutality to kill innocent people in cold blood. Lakhs of people lost their lives and their remains lie beneath the soil. It was an arduous task for former Army Chief and Minister of State for External Affairs V. K. Singh to trace the remains of the victims buried in the desert and match them with the DNA samples of their relatives based in India. He deserves kudos for his efforts.

As far as the delay is concerned, it is known to everybody that Mosul was in control of ISIS all these years, and only after the Iraqi army regained Mosul, efforts to trace the kidnapped Indians began in right earnest. No government can declare its 39 nationals dead based on the testimony of a single witness, who survived the massacre. Political parties should realize that this is a humane issue and there should be no politicking over this massacre.

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Centre must take steps to regulate social media

AKB (1)On Wednesday, Union Law and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad warned Facebook owner Mark Zuckerberg by name and said that any data leak relating to Indian users for political purposes in India would not be tolerated.

Prasad also alleged that Cambridge Analytica, which has been charged of leaking Facebook data for misuse during Trump’s election in the US and Brexit referendum in the UK, was trying to fix a deal with Congress party for next year’s Lok Sabha elections. The minister asked Congress to explain its connection with CA, since it was “a serious security threat for the country”.

Prasad said, “we welcome FB profile in India, but if any data theft of Indians is done through colllusion of Facebook, it shall not be tolerated, and the government has stringent powers under the IT Act, which it shall use.”

There are more than 200 crore Facebook users across the world, out of which more than 24 crore active users are in India. Twitter, WhatsApp and Instagram have become part of daily life for most Indians who use smartphones. Imagine what will happen if the data of such social media users are leaked out to interested parties. Social media, particularly Facebook and WhatsApp, have vital data relating to their users including their telephone numbers, their locations, their present and past profile, their contacts and even their social and political leanings.

Any political party would happily misuse such info about its voters, but if such data are passed on to third parties having malicious intent, the very essence of privacy will vanish. Anybody could be easily blackmailed or tracked.

Till now, social media was being blamed for circulating fake news and allegations, it was spreading rumours that could cause unrest in society, but Wednesday’s revelations pose a greater risk. It is now time that the Centre must take strong steps to regulate social media.

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Why Arvind Kejriwal is tendering apology for his defamatory charges

Aaj-Ki-Baat_frame_61721Aam Aadmi Party supremo and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Thursday tendered a signed written apology on his party’s letterhead to Akali Dal leader and former Punjab minister Bikram Singh Majithia, who had filed a defamation case against him for levelling unsubstantiated charges of collusion with drug peddlers.

During the Punjab assembly elections, Kejriwal had called Majithia a “druglord” and had threatened to “drag him by his collar to jail”, if his party came to power. Kejriwal’s party lost the elections badly and Majithia filed a defamation case against him in order to redeem his family’s honour. In his written apology, Kejriwal writes, “now I have learnt the allegations are unfounded… I hereby withdraw all my statements and allegations made against you and apologize.”

Kejriwal is being lampooned on social media for his written apology. Dissident AAP leader Kumar Vishwas posted a caustic Hindi verse on his Twitter handle “Hum kya us shakhs par thooken, Jo khud thook kar chaatne me maahir hain”, (why should I spit at one who himself excels in licking his own spit).

Well, Kejriwal excels in the art of apologizing. He had apologized to Union Minister Nitin Gadkari publicly in court and now he has apologized to Bikram Majithia. The inside story is that Kejriwal has already sent feelers to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley offering to apologize for his allegations about DDCA. He has already sent several messages to Jaitley, offering to apologize in return for withdrawing defamation cases from court. He has also promised never to level such charges in future, but he is yet to get any response from Jaitley. Former Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit has also filed a defamation case against Kejriwal, and there are chances that the latter may apologize to her too.

The reason why Kejriwal is on an apology spree is that he even lies to his lawyers. None other than Ram Jethmalani has disclosed this. Since Kejriwal has no evidences with him to back up his charges, nor has good lawyers, he is opting for the easiest way out: tendering apologies.

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Byelection results in UP, Bihar can act as magnet for opposition unity

rajatsharma_frame_36961Why did BJP lose in its two bastions in UP – Gorakhpur and Phoolpur? Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said, it could be because of overconfidence, while Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav said, it was because of social engineering and the support extended by BSP supremo Mayawati. During the last Lok Sabha and assembly polls, the BJP had worked out a complex caste equation in UP which yielded rich dividends. This time, Akhilesh Yadav applied the same caste formula to give BJP a drubbing in the bypolls. During the Lok Sabha and assembly polls in UP, BJP had accomodated a large number of dissident SP, BSP leaders belonging to different castes, but this time, Akhilesh tied up with Nishad Party, Peace Party, and after the nomination filing process was over, Mayawati announced that her party would support the strongest candidate who can defeat the BJP. The ruling party was then left with no other option but face the battle. That is why, after the byelection results were announced on Wednesday, Akhilesh Yadav in his 15-minute long press conference profusely thanked his political rival-turned-ally Mayawati several times. He then spoke to Mayawati over phone seeking a meeting, and the BSP supremo sent a black Mercedes car to bring Akhilesh to her residence.

Speculations are rife whether the SP and BSP will forge an alliance for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in UP to defeat BJP. On the other hand, whatever BJP leaders may say in public, the byelection drubbings in UP and Bihar do not bode well for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah. Leaders of opposition parties are already trying to forge a joint platform since the last few days. Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee and National Conference chief Omar Abdullah were the first to welcome the byelection results, which can act as a magnet to bring disparate opposition parties on a single platform.

The biggest challenge will have to be faced by Congress. Its candidate stood fourth in Gorakhpur and lost her deposit. The party is gradually losing its bargaining power in the process, and Akhilesh Yadav may not give much importance to the party now. This was made clear by his associate Ramgopal Yadav on Wednesday in an interview to India TV, when he pointed out that the Congress had fielded its own candidate, and the state Congress chief had hurled abuses at Akhilesh while addressing election meetings. He himself questioned the scope for alignment with Congress. If ever an all India anti-BJP front emerges, there remains ambiguity about the role of the Congress. Even the Congress leaders themselves do not know what role the party will play in opposition unity.

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Politicians should learn austerity from Manik Sarkar

Aaj-ki-baat_frame_7993On Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, after attending the swearing-in ceremony of Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb in Agartala, went up to the former CM Manik Sarkar, seated between BJP stalwarts L. K. Advani and Dr Murli Manohar Joshi, shook hands with him and exchanged pleasantries. He then escorted Manik Sarkar to the steps of the dais, as the latter wanted to leave.

Manik Sarkar, known as India’s poorest chief minister, ruled the state for 25 years. There was no corruption charge against him, nor did he change his lifestyle. At the time of contesting elections this year, he had only Rs 2000 in his bank account, and the day the results were announced, he tendered his resignation to the Governor and vacated his official residence. Since he had no house of his own, Sarkar and his wife have been staying in a room inside their party office.

Manik Sarkar is a shining example of honesty and probity in Indian public life. He should be respected for his austere lifestyle. Other politicians should learn from him, because in most of the cases, when politicians lose elections, they refuse to vacate their official bungalows. Prime Minister Modi publicly accorded respect to Manik Sarkar and personally escorted him from the dais. This is another shining example of the greatness of our democracy.

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Why Chandrababu Naidu parted ways with PM Modi

aaj-ki-baat_frame_8809On Wednesday night, Telugu Desam Party supremo and Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu announced that his two ministers at the Centre would tender their resignations because BJP has “betrayed” him by not giving special status to AP. Naidu spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi over telephone on Thursday, and soon afterwards, both the TDP ministers at the Centre went to the PM’s residence to hand over their resignation letters.

The political storm had been brewing since long. TDP MPs had been staging protests inside Parliament since the last four days demanding special status. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Wednesday made it clear that there was no provision in law to grant special status to any state. Only in the case of Northeastern states and the three hilly states, the Centre was providing 90 per cent share in all centrally-sponsored schemes. Jaitley said that the Centre was ready to give special assistance to AP through a special purpose vehicle, but share in taxes cannot be enhanced.

We should understand two points from this development.

One, the BJP is slowly and surely spreading its wings in AP, but it is still not in a position to contest elections on its own. The party had entered into an electoral alliance with Chandrababu Naidu in 2014, but now that the YSR Congress chief Y S Jaganmohan Reddy has emerged as a strong political force, BJP leaders have started talks with Reddy’s party to forge an alliance for the Lok Sabha and assembly polls scheduled next year.

Two, had the BJP come out of the alliance with TDP, it would have invited criticism. The demand for special status to AP is an emotional issue, and Chandrababu Naidu is trying to project this as a big issue. Now that the Centre has refused to accept the demand, Naidu took it as the last straw and decided to part ways with BJP.

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Vandalization of statues is not acceptable in a humane society

akb2The trend started soon after the BJP swept the Tripura assembly polls last weekend unseating the Left which had been power for the last 25 years. A JCB machine was used to dismantle a statue of Lenin installed by the Left Front in Tripura. Two days later, ultra Left activists damaged and blackened the statue of Syama Prasad Mookerjee, one of the founders of Bharatiya Jana Sangh, in Kolkata. A statue of Dravid movement leader Periyar was damaged in Tamil Nadu, while a statue of Dr B R Ambedkar, the noted Dalit leader who piloted the Indian Constitution, was vandalized in Meerut, UP.

Whether the statues are of Lenin, or of Syama Prasad Mookerjee, or Dr Ambedkar or Periyar Ramaswamy Naicker, nobody has the right to vandalize statues in a humane society, nor is this a part of our great democratic traditions. It is heartening to note that Prime Minister Narendra Modi quickly took note of this and the Centre sent out advisories to all states to prevent such incidents. Home Minister Rajnath Singh also took a hard stand. These statues belonged to great leaders of a bygone era, but one should learn from Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav how not to indulge in politics over statues.

When BSP supremo Mayawati lost the assembly elections in UP six years back, one expected the Samajwati Party to dismantle the statues of Mayawati. But the then chief minister Akhilesh Yadav protected the statues of his political rival. During last month’s Business Summit in Lucknow, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath ordered that these statues should be polished.

Those who vandalize statues fail to realize that by indulging in such actions, they give a handle to those who are trying to divide society.

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Congress will have to respond to charges against Chidambaram

Aaj-ki-baat_frame_58203 (1)Former INX Media promoter Indrani Mukerjea in a video telecast by a news channel on Monday night has admitted that her company paid one million US dollars to Former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram’s son Karti’s companies in order to secure FIPB approvals for foreign investment. In the video, Indrani, who is currently in Byculla jail, clearly admitted that the then Finance Minister had helped her INX Media company, and she and her husband Peter had met Chidambaram in North Block. Indrani has made this confession in her statement before a magistrate under Section 164 of Criminal Procedure Code. Based on this confession, CBI sleuths took Karti Chidambaram to Mumbai jail last weekend for a face-to-face interrogation with the Mukerjea couple in jail.

Meanwhile, Enforcement Directorate in its report has revealed how Chidambaram, as the then Finance Minister, cleared several thousands of crores of rupees worth FIPB approvals for Aircel Maxis. On Monday, Chidambaram refused to reply to queries from reporters, and briefly said that he does not need to reply, as all the answers are there in the government files.

This was in response to the charges levelled against him by Law Minister Ravi Shanker Prasad in the INX Media and Aircel Maxis cases. The CAG report also supports these charges. The Law Minister sought answers from Chidambaram, Rahul Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, but it is surprising that the Congress official spokesperson chose not to respond. Such silence can harm the Congress, and one can only expect that Chidambaram will reply, sooner rather than later.

In the last two weeks, when the Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi bank frauds came to light, the Congress leaders went to town asking how these cheats were allowed to flee the country, but when Karti Chidambaram was arrested by CBI, and details relating to P. Chidambaram came to light, the Congress appeared to be on the defensive. The Congress reaction was that this was a strategy to divert public attention from Nirav Modi case. Now that the documents and statements are appearing in public, it seems that Chidambaram could become the cause of major worry for the Congress. It is now the Congress which has to reply.

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